We always seem to be busy. It feels like we go from event to event mindlessly sometimes. I know I am not alone in feeling like I am losing an important thread as I attempt to craft a life of meaning and worth. I can’t always stop everything I am doing or thinking about and sit in a yoga pose to “center” myself. I don’t even know what that means. As I try to nourish a deeper life for myself and my family and encourage you to do the same through this blog, I am not trying to add anything to my list other than just pay attention. To do that I have been trying to hold onto moments that are uncomfortable and blissful, to examine them honestly and figure out why I have those moments of discord and harmony. What do they say about the world and about me? So I share this story as an example of holding a moment of discord until it resolves into harmony.
A Tale of Two Men
As Father’s Day approached this year we were so busy with birthdays and family and travel. The first event that set us on the busy course of the next four weeks was my oldest daughter’s birthday. She turned 18 and at our house, on your birthday you get to pick what you want to eat. That is usually a restaurant and this year despite the fact that she was finally an adult she chose the same restaurant that she chose when she turned 13. Raleigh has some great eateries and I suggested many options for adult dining, but we went to the Japanese Steakhouse at the mall. It was fun and she was pleased and all was well. We had a walk down memory lane when we stopped at the Build-a-Bear store and saw that there was a new Captian Abearica to go with the recent release of Endgame. When she was 13 all she wanted was the bear that went with the movie, the world, the figure of Cap, with whom she had fallen in love. That year we left the Japanese steakhouse show and made a bear. She still loves that bear and Captian America is still her favorite superhero.
The Man at the Mall
This year as we left, we stopped at the North Face store to look at a huge tent they have displayed in the window. Its geometry and size were truly impressive. The salesman came up to talk to us, clearly excited that this object had brought us into his store. He spoke like a true expert on all the features of this tent. Then he drew our attention to the large pictures attached to each side of the tent and told us those were his photos from his climb up Mnt. Everest a few years ago. We felt like we were in the presence of celebrity. We peppered this older gentleman with questions that he answered easily in his English accent, which I admit gave him an added air of credibility. We talked about camping and world travel and places we had both been. It was delightful. Then my youngest daughter expressed amazement that he is planning to climb K2 in Pakistan next year and he offered his advice on what has given him his version of the good life. He looked at my beautiful child and with so much self-satisfaction and told her that she could see the world too, just don’t have any kids. The secret to his success was that simple and that sad.
The timing of that advice hit me hard, on the birthday of my first born child. We reacted physically to that advice. I put my arm around my daughter a kissed her cheek and told her that she was better than any trip to Paris and I would never trade her for seeing all the world before I die. We made our cordial goodbyes and walked out heavy hearted. The sadness of this man’s choice haunted me for a couple of weeks. We discussed it on the way home, but his pride in what feels like a half-life would not leave me alone. It perplexed me that I kept thinking about this moment and his decision because I value so highly his ability to make decisions for his life. I don’t condemn his decision, but I was uneasy and the boldness of his claim. This small interaction left me with a real note of discord that I carried it with me for a few days.
Things started to get really busy as June arrived bringing our loved ones all the way from Montana for a much-anticipated vacation. We sat on the back porch and visited. We feasted at Chick-fil-a and we took a road trip to the beach before our big culminating event when we would all gather at the grandparent’s house for a celebration. We were celebrating all the birthdays that scatter-shot the spring calendar and the retirement of my father-in-law. The birthdays come every year, but we all wondered if this retirement would ever come. All the Hartman men are good workers and they take their good work seriously so we wondered if there would ever be a time when Dr. Hartman was not a professor.
The Man At The End Of The Table
It was as I sat at the opposite end of the table from this great man that I realized I was looking at the complete contrast to the advice from the man at the mall. At that moment I understood my sadness for a stranger’s decision. We gave gifts and made speeches about his dedication and hard work. There he sat with his wife of 50 years surrounded by three faithful sons, their wives, and his 8 grandchildren. We were celebrating the work he had gone to every day, the work he had been called to do in the world. Then he looked up with tears in his eyes and said the truest thing I have heard in a long time. He swept his hand across the room to encompass us all and said, “This is my greatest achievement.”
He is so greatly loved and this love will carry him and care for him to the end and then it will follow him to the life to come and recommend him for that final glory when he hears the words, “Well done. . .” The contrast to my father-in-law’s life is so real when I think of the man at the mall. The salesman who entered into the hard work of climbing a mountain will employ sherpas and guides to bring him to that brief moment of joy and exhilaration at the mountain top. Then he will return to the mall to share his experience with strangers. The contrast and discord were so real but I finally understood my sadness. It is in the short-sightedness and temporal nature of the advice, “just don’t have any kids.”
I don’t want to oversimplify the life of this stranger. He was so fun to talk to and I am sure he is a fabulous trail companion. This is just me trying to take note of the moments of discord in my life. We should hold these moments and examine them for a while to notice when and how they fade into harmony. As I took note of that moment of resolution it felt like a cinematic score adding richness and depth to a movie. Noticing things like this is the path of wisdom.
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